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Panic At Atlanta Airport After Accidental Weapon Discharge; Peng Shuai Purportedly Seen In New Videos; COVID-19 Lockdowns In Europe; Vaccine Skepticism Driving Romania's Death Toll; Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict Protests; Russia-Ukraine Tensions; Wildfires Torch Thousands Of Giant Sequoias; NASA To Test Anti-Asteroid Defense System. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired November 21, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

A gunshot inside America's busiest airport triggers chaos. Now Atlanta police are looking for the man who fired the weapon that went off at a security checkpoint.

China says this new video shows missing tennis star Peng Shuai. But some say it's not enough to prove she's safe.

And protests over new COVID lockdowns and restrictions in Europe. We have details in a live report from Rome.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: We begin with the chaos of Atlanta's airport this weekend. Things are getting back to normal now.



BRUNHUBER (voice-over): But this was the scene on Saturday after a gunshot rang out inside the airport. Travelers started hitting the floor in the security screening area.

And outside, crowds of people began rushing away from the terminal. According to investigators, a passenger was trying to get through airport security with a gun in his bag.

But when TSA agents stopped him, he lunged and grabbed the gun and ended up firing it. That set off a panic and sent other travelers running for cover. Here's how one woman described the scene. (END VIDEO CLIP)


JUDITH FOUTS, TRAVELER: People just came flying through. And just were like, run, run, run. And then people were just running. And we all just ran outside this door right here and made our way across to the side of the airport and just -- it was organized chaos.


BRUNHUBER: Officials say no one was shot but at least three people were hurt in the rush to get out.

Meanwhile, here's the situation on a plane that had just landed before they knew the full details that no one had been shot. Have a look here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not parking the airport at the concourse out of an abundance of caution for your safety. Again, we've got an active shooter situation in the airport. We're not parking at the terminal out of an abundance of safety for yourselves.


BRUNHUBER: On Saturday, Atlanta police identified the man with the gun as Kenny Wells, a convicted felon. They say he managed to escape the airport with the weapon and officers are actively searching for him.

Now the situation also unfolded during one of the busiest weekends of the year, as Americans travel ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. CNN's Nadia Romero has more.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting back to a sense of normalcy here in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after the security incident that happened at about 1:30 on Saturday.

So we know that there was a passenger, who had a gun that was in his bags. And at some point during the security checkpoint with TSA, it was an accidental discharge. We're still trying to figure out the details as it remains under investigation. But we do know that that passenger, during the confusion, the chaos that ensued thereafter, fled the airport. Investigators are trying to track him down to investigate and speak with him.

Now that created a domino effect of confusion and, at some points, chaos in the airport, as people learned that there was an active shooter. And later they found out it was an accidental discharge but that rumor spread very quickly throughout the airport and on social media. And it stopped everything in its tracks.

There was a temporary ground stop here at the airport. And now that caused some flights to be delayed and it impacted travel, which is why Delta Airlines is offering a waiver to passengers whose flight plans were interrupted.

This is already going to be, was supposed to be a busy travel weekend ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Now you add in this accidental discharge that really disrupted what was supposed to be happening throughout this weekend.

Now the TSA has already reported that they're seeing an alarming rate of guns trying to go through different checkpoints. In the first 10 months of this year, some 4,650 firearms were spotted at checkpoints by TSA.

And in the first 10 months of the year, we've already surpassed the record number of more than 4,400 back in 2019.


ROMERO: That's a concern not here just in Atlanta but all across the country. But again, things seem to be getting back to normal, as the investigation continues as to how this happened on Saturday afternoon -- Nadia Romero, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: So as you just heard in Nadia's report, a record number of guns have been confiscated at TSA checkpoints across the U.S. this year. CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem explains why it's such a problem.


JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That people were just sort of waiting -- remember, we're also in a pandemic, so people are waiting with masks, they're nervous, they're fearful.

The decision to then open up the airport, which was absolutely the right decision, no reason to close down those gates, also needed to be disclosed quickly so that people knew they could get back up.

Atlanta is a huge hub. People have now missed connections. You have airplanes in the air. So that is also something that is going to have to be addressed.

Why were so many passengers and people around the security area sort of unaware of what, in fact, was happening at this stage?

I will say, just, you know, I said this earlier, a gun at a security checkpoint in Atlanta is happening more than once a day at this stage; 450 people -- or firearms have been captured in the last year alone.

So people are doing stupid things; they are not abiding by federal law. So this is the criminal laws that you are looking at. TSA rules are pretty clear, that you have to check it. You're allowed to travel with guns or have guns on the other end; you're just not allowed to have them on your lap in the airplane, thank goodness. And so I think that, you know, there's an automatic violation right

there, a criminal law and then he clearly has a felony past that may have -- that probably prohibited him from maybe having a gun and that was why he lunged after it. We don't know right now but this is what has to be determined at this stage.


BRUNHUBER: So as we mentioned earlier, the chaos at Atlanta's airport came amid the busy Thanksgiving travel period. According to the TSA, Friday broke pandemic air travel records in the U.S.

More than 2.2 million people went through security screenings. In all, the TSA expects more than 20 million people to pass through U.S. airports during the holiday rush. And there could be more trouble on the way for travelers, with a significant storm system threatening to disrupt flights in the coming days.


BRUNHUBER: New video from Chinese state media purports to show missing tennis star Peng Shuai alive and well.


BRUNHUBER: She hasn't been seen after she accused one of China's leaders of sexual assault nearly three weeks ago. One clip shows Peng greeting fans and signing autographs reportedly at Sunday's junior tennis challenge finals in Beijing.

And this video said to have been taken Saturday, showing Peng having dinner with her coach and friends at a Beijing restaurant. CNN hasn't been able to independently verify when any of these videos were taken. For more on this, let's bring in Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

So Kristie, is this going any way toward reassuring the international community?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: No, not necessarily. In fact, it's just raising more questions. Let's talk more about these newly emerged videos. These videos were sent from people with links to Chinese state media and shared them on Twitter, so this is aimed squarely at an international audience.

In a series of video clips released earlier today, we see the Chinese tennis star at what appears to be a youth tennis tournament in Beijing.

And then in another series of footage that was released last night, we saw Peng Shuai at a popular Sichuan restaurant, there seated next to two women. In a 45-minute clip, she doesn't say a word but the other people go out of their way to talk about the date.

And CNN has not been able to independently verify these videos or when they were filmed. It was about two weeks ago, on November the 2nd, when Peng Shuai accused a very powerful man, the former vice premier of China, of forcing her to have sex with him.

It was an accusation that she made on a verified Sina Weibo account and it was taken down shortly after within 30 minutes. And she has not been heard from directly since then.

In fact, Peng Shuai continues to be under blanket censorship in China. There is no coverage of her allegations on Chinese state-run media or social media. The Women's Tennis Association, they're concerned. They've been trying to contact her.

They've also said that they're willing to pull out of the business in China in order for her safety to be guaranteed, in order for allegations to be properly investigated.

And we also got this reaction from the WTA to this fresh footage, which they're saying is not enough. Let's bring it up for you.

In this statement it says, "While it's positive to see her, it remains unclear if she's free and able to make decisions or actions on her own without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient," unquote.

Now on Friday, the WTA also wrote to China's ambassador in the United States, expressing his concerns. The WTA has told CNN that they have yet to receive a response.

And it's not just that organization. You have the United Nations, you have the White House, you have international tennis stars coming forward and expressing concern. And this comes at a very difficult time because the Beijing Olympic Games are less than three months away, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Appreciate the update on this story, Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong, thank you so much.

STOUT: You got it.

BRUNHUBER: Now we are following breaking news out of Jerusalem, where a shooting attack in the Old City has left a 35-year-old man dead and four other people injured. One victim, a man in his 30s, is said to be in serious condition. Three others were said to have moderate to light injuries.

Now authorities, say the alleged assailant was killed. They say the shooter used an improvised automatic weapon, commonly known as a Carlo. It comes just days after a Palestinian teenager was killed in a stabbing attack against Israeli police in the Old City.

The Austrian people have been through lockdowns before. Many of them are furious they'll now have to stay home again and get vaccinated, whether they like it or not. We have a live report just ahead.

Plus, U.S. House Democrats vote to approve the roughly $2 trillion spending bill but the legislation still has a difficult road ahead in the Senate. We'll have more on that ahead later this hour. Stay with us. (MUSIC PLAYING)




BRUNHUBER: Europe is grappling with some of its highest numbers of COVID infections since the pandemic began. And that's because so many Europeans have refused to get vaccinated.

So lockdowns and new restrictions are rolling out across the continent, none of which are popular. Compounding the surge, the declining effectiveness of vaccines after several months.

Even a country like Portugal, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, is seeing troubling upticks in new cases. Cases have been going up in the U.S. as well, with the Northern Hemisphere now heading into winter and people gathering indoors for the holidays. Booster shots are becoming more important than ever.

CNN's Barbie Nadeau joins us from Rome with the latest.

Barbie, so this spike in cases in Europe has led to more restrictions and mandates and that's led to sometimes violent pushback. You've been looking at what exactly has been driving this anger on a couple of fronts.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In Austria, especially now, they've got the strictest restrictions in Europe so far. And we saw violent protests over the weekend.

It's really twofold. The people who are not vaccinated don't want to be vaccinated. They don't want to have to get vaccines, which would be a mandate by February 1st. But the people who are vaccinated are also angry, because they're going into a lockdown on Monday, a full lockdown, just like we had last winter. Let's listen to what we found.


NADEAU (voice-over): It's the last weekend before a nationwide lockdown, in Austria. Tens of thousands of people, in Vienna, protested the new COVID-19 restrictions.

One protester, says, "I want my freedom back. One would think we live in a democracy but now, this is a coronavirus dictatorship."

Austria is introducing some of the strictest measures in the region, to try to contain the virus. As of Monday, all residents, whether vaccinated or not, are back under a stay-at-home order.


NADEAU (voice-over): No one is allowed to leave home, except to work, shop for essentials or exercise. And, in February, COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory.

The decisions have infuriated some in the country. Even though Austria, like many countries in Europe, is experiencing staggering numbers of new infections. The demonstration in Vienna was organized by the country's far right Freedom Party, which says it will combat the new measures, though, the party head couldn't attend, after testing positive for COVID-19.

In the Netherlands, city workers in Rotterdam, are cleaning up, after a night of violent protests over a proposed corona pass, which would limit access to indoor public venues to people who are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

Rioters burned cars and threw rocks at police, who responded with warning shots and water cannons. Some residents say they are appalled by how out of control the rally became.

One man says, "I am very angry about it. They renovated the center of the town and a bunch of idiots destroyed it."

Crowds, are also, filling the streets of the capital of Croatia, opposing a COVID passport, for government, in public buildings, which goes into effect on Monday.

Loud, agitated, pockets of discontent around Europe as governments, increasingly, lose patience with vaccine resistance and take more drastic measures, to try to stop the spread of the virus. As people gather indoors, because of the colder weather.

The World Health Organization, saying that another 500,000 people, in Europe, could die by March, unless urgent action is taken. The rallies for personal freedom and against the restrictions taking place in cities across Europe, as strained ICUs across the region, struggle, to keep up with the number of COVID-19 patients, some of them just fighting to stay alive -- Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Rome.


NADEAU: And, you know, I think it's safe to say, everyone across Europe is watching the numbers in their own countries rise and then watching these restrictions and thinking, what is ahead?

They don't want another winter like we had last year. Everybody locked down for the holidays. That's not what everybody is looking forward to, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. All right, thanks so much for that report, Barbie Nadeau, appreciate it.

Vaccine misinformation is taking a tragic toll in much of Eastern Europe. It's especially acute in Romania, which has among the lowest vaccination rates in Europe. With just over 36 percent fully vaccinated and one of the highest mortality rates in the world, something sadly evident in the hospitals and the morgues across the country. CNN's Ben Wedeman has that story.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a jarring finality about death from COVID-19 at the Bucharest University Hospital. Workers nail coffins shut and spray them with disinfectant.

Anguish echoes from the next room. A woman sees her loved one for the very last time.

WEDEMAN: This is Bucharest's biggest hospital. The morgue has a capacity for 15 bodies. But within the last 24 hours alone, 41 people have died. The overflow, ends up here, in the corridor.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Every day, more COVID dead are wheeled into the morgue. Nurse Claudiu Ionita is close to the breaking point.

"They keep coming, they keep coming," he says. "We're working for nothing. We can't see the light at the end of the tunnel."

And dark is Romania's tunnel. The country is in its fourth wave of COVID, its worst yet. The death toll from coronavirus hit a record level this month. Intensive care units are strained to the limits.

Hospital director Catalin Cirstoiu tries to put the death toll, in perspective.

DR. CATALIN CIRSTOIU, MANAGER, BUCHAREST'S UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: In Romania, each day, we have 400 patients who are dead. You know?

Four hundred people, it's a huge number. It's a community. It's a village. You know?

WEDEMAN: Romania has one of Europe's lowest vaccination rates against the disease. There are no lines at this Bucharest vaccination center. Medics say they struggle against fakes news, suspicion and superstition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of doctors, myself included, who worked with COVID patients and we are trying to tell people that this disease actually exists.

WEDEMAN: Parliament member Diana Sosoaca has even tried to physically block people from entering vaccination centers.

"If you love your children," she says, "stop the vaccinations. Don't kill them."

The vaccines have been extensively tested in children and proven to be safe and effective.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): But she and others have sent wild rumors and magical thinking swirling through social media.

Colonel Vileriu Gheorghita, a doctor, runs the country's vaccination program. VILERIU GHEORGHITA, HEAD OF ROMANIA'S VACCINATION CAMPAIGN: We have, unfortunately, hundreds of deaths each day. So this is the reality. And more than 90 percent of patients who died were -- were unvaccinated patients.

WEDEMAN: Nearly 36 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. From rural areas, however, it's half of that.

The village of Bosanci is an hour's flight from Bucharest and a world away. Religion holds sway here. Many put more faith in God than science. Village mayor and Pentecostal pastor, Neculai Miron, refuses to be vaccinated.

"We're not against the vaccine," he insists, "but we want to verify it, to be reassured. Because there have been many side effects. We don't think the vaccine's components are very safe. It's not a safe vaccine."

Experts say the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19. And just down the road, Dr. Daniela Afadaroaie has vaccinated 10 people on this day.

"No," she tells me. "We haven't seen any side effects in any patients we've vaccinated."

In the county seat of Suceava, fresh graves in the cemetery, stark evidence, of a recent surge in deaths. Every day in Romania, a village is dying -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Suceava, Romania.


BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, panic breaks out at the Atlanta airport as a gunshot sends travelers running for cover. What we know about the man that officials say caused all the chaos.

Plus, President Biden wins a political victory on Capitol Hill. We'll explain how his domestic agenda is back on track, at least for now.





BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Back to our top story, police in Atlanta, Georgia, are searching for the man who accidentally fired a gun inside the airport on Saturday. Have a look here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER (voice-over): This was the scene in the security screening area as people hit the floor just after the gun went off. Officials say the man had the weapon in his bag when he went through airport security.

But when TSA agents stopped him, he lunged for the gun, accidentally firing it before taking off with the weapon. On Saturday, Atlanta police identified the man as Kenny Wells, a convicted felon. And they say several warrants have now been issued for his arrest.


BRUNHUBER: Sporadic protests have been reported around the country after the Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse. But they were nowhere near the scope of demonstrations demanding racial justice last year.

New York, California, Oregon and Illinois all saw people take to the streets but, as Shimon Prokupecz explains, Kenosha, Wisconsin, itself, has been quiet.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: People are back in the stores here, people are back out and about. Really, people kind of have been going on, living their lives daily as the trial was going on. And so things are just back to normal.

A courtroom -- the courtroom area, the street here, it's back to being open. We're not seeing people out here. So things, thankfully, are back to normal.

Of course, this all comes, as we heard from the attorney, from Kyle Rittenhouse, who reacted to the video, to the interview that Kyle Rittenhouse did with FOX News and also the fact that cameras, cameras were following him around during the trial. Take a listen to what he said.


MARK RICHARDS, ATTORNEY FOR KYLE RITTENHOUSE: I did not approve of that. I threw them out of the room several times. I don't think a film crew is appropriate for something like this.

But the people who were raising the money to pay for the experts and to pay for the attorneys were trying to raise money and that was part of it.


PROKUPECZ: Also, this interview that Kyle Rittenhouse did with FOX News, the cameras were following him throughout the trial. They were even inside the courthouse on the third floor here, were in a room with his own security.

So obviously, the attorneys saying that they had to do this. They were against this but they had to do this, because they needed to fund his defense. They had to hire experts and jury consultants and, of course, they did two mock juries.

So all of that cost a lot of money. The people who were funding it wanted to do that. That is why they did it.


BRUNHUBER: In Washington, the Biden administration is celebrating a milestone on Capitol Hill. But it's too soon to declare a total victory.

On Friday, House Democrats overcame months of internal feuds over the cost and scope of the social spending and climate change package and voted to approve the bill. Now the fight will continue as it heads to the Senate. Here's President Biden's take on what happens next.


QUESTION: The Build Back Better plan, now that it's passed the House, when do you expect it to land on your desk?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know. It's going to take a while to get through the Senate. I think we're probably after Thanksgiving.

QUESTION: Would you sign it if it doesn't contain paid family leave?

BIDEN: I will sign it, period.


BRUNHUBER: In Russia, president Vladimir Putin is accusing the West of selling what he calls lethal modern weapons to Ukraine. His statement came after Washington warned about the Kremlin's military buildup near Ukraine and said Russia may try to replay the incursion it carried out seven years ago. Arlette Saenz reports.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of state Antony Blinken says the U.S. has very real concerns about Russian military activity near the border of Ukraine.

This is just the latest example of the U.S. saying that they are taking the situation seriously, just a few weeks after Blinken said that he's concerned that Russia might try to rehash their 2014 incursion into and annexation of Crimea. Take a listen to Blinken, speaking to reporters in Senegal.



ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have real concerns about Russia's unusual military activity on the border with Ukraine. We have real concerns about some of the rhetoric we're seeing and hearing from Russia, as well as in social media.

We don't know what President Putin's intentions are. But we do know what's happened in the past. We've been in very close consultation with partners throughout Europe. And I can tell you that there's a widely shared concern and a real focus on that concern.


SAENZ: Now in addition to speaking to partners and allies, the U.S. has also been engaging with Russia. Earlier this month, President Biden sent CIA director Bill Burns to Russia directly, in a very rare trip, to speak to the Kremlin officials and say that the U.S. was monitoring their activities.

The national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, also spoke with Russia -- his counterpart in Russia on the Security Council earlier this week.

Now Russia did build up and have some military activity near Ukraine back in the spring. But that did not amount to anything, though the U.S. is very concerned that they might try to repeat what they did in 2014, when they illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Now one concern for U.S. officials is that they don't feel they have the visibility into President Putin's inner circle to determine what exactly is taking place at this moment. But this is certainly something that the White House continues to watch closely -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: Nearly a month after a military coup toppled Sudan's government, we're getting reports that a deal has been reached that will restore the country's prime minister and release detained civilian leaders. CNN's Larry Madowo joins us with more from Nairobi.

This is just breaking but what more can you tell us?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, this is significant. We understand that ousted Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok met with Sudan's military chief, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

And they came out with the political agreement that would see Abdalla Hamdok reinstated as a prime minister and the transitional government, that was led by civilians, go back in effect.

We're hearing this, according to Mudawi Ibrahim, who's a prominent official in the National Forces Initiative, that helped mediate the talks. So according to this official, among the things that General Burhan and the former prime minister agreed on is that all political detainees would be released.

Since the October 25th coup, several members of the former transitional government, politicians, ministers were detained. There have been politicians and other protesters that were detained since then. They will all be released.

Also they have agreed that General Burhan would restore the council of ministers that he himself got rid of on October 25th when he took power in Sudan.

Some of the other parts of this agreement is that they would set up a unified army and that a committee would be set up to investigate the protests following the 25th October military coup, which has seen at least 40 people have been killed, hundreds of people have been wounded in protests, mostly in Sudan and other parts of the country.

And they have also agreed that Sudan's constitution would be amended to include new articles, specifically outlining the partnership between civilians and the military. So it's going to be a huge development, if this is announced, like we expect, in the coming hours.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, a huge development, a welcome development, as you say.

Do we know sort of what's next in terms of a timetable?

MADOWO: The big thing here, Kim, is gaining international recognition of this deal, which is what all international participants of Sudan have been asking for. U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken has been traveling in Africa -- Nigeria, Nairobi, Senegal -- he demanded that the military hand over power back to civilians, that they stop using force against unarmed protesters and that they restore the civilian democratic-led transition.

If they get international recognition, then all of the funds that the international community had mobilized to try to fund the democratic transition would be reopened. But secondly and maybe even more importantly, is gaining civilian acceptance of this deal because the civilian movement in Sudan is so strong.

They've been on the streets almost every day since the October 25 coup and we've already seen some noises that some people are not so happy about this, because it seems to legitimatize the military's control of Sudan.

So if they can get the protesters to agree to this deal, then their democratic transition is back on track.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Really appreciate you weighing in on this developing story, Larry Madowo, thanks so much for joining us.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, what it takes to save the world's sequoia trees from wildfires. We'll have a report from California coming up.

And a new list is ranking the world's most polluted cities.


BRUNHUBER: When we come back, who tops the list and how the government plans to fix it. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: In the next two stories, we'll look at climate change and its impact on two locations that are nearly opposite sides of the planet. First in California, where thousands of giant sequoia trees like this one are in danger of being destroyed by wildfires.

So why is it happening now and what can be done about it?

CNN's Stephanie Elam went to find out.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're on a hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But this is a tour of sequoia destruction.

CHRISTY BRIGHAM, SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS: I am not happy about 2,000 to 3,000 more dead large sequoias. It's a big number to me.

ELAM (voice-over): That's 3 percent to 5 percent of the remaining monarch sequoias in the world, according to a preliminary report by the National Park Service, killed in the K&P Complex fire that churned through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the Windy fire further south.

And that big number is on top of an even larger loss of mature sequoias last year in the Castle fire. Part of the sequoia complex, that wildfire eviscerating 10 percent to 14 percent of the world's giant sequoia population.

Brigham says this means, in just the last two years, up to a fifth of mature sequoias, trees that have stood for at least 1,000 years, if not more, have been lost to wildfire.

BRIGHAM: That's not sustainable. That is not getting wildfire and climate change-resilient forests.

ELAM (voice-over): It's a conflux of concerns these scientists never thought they would see, the threat made worse by another year of drought, leaving the sequoias dry and vulnerable.


GARRETT DICKMAN, BOTANIST, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK: That means its water source has been there for over 2,000 years. That that water is not there means that the climate and the world around it has changed.

ELAM (voice-over): But lessons learned last year helped save some sequoia this year.

BRIGHAM: Before the Castle fire, we had never seen losses of large trees like we had in that fire, 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias lost in a single fire event. And that really changed what we decided we were willing to do to protect trees, if we could.

ELAM (voice-over): And what they were willing to do called for innovation in the face of fire, from literally throwing what they could at the threat, like sprinkler systems that spray trees 35 to 40 feet in the air, and dropping fire retardant gel from aircraft into hard-to-reach groves, to extreme tree hugging, swaddling some of the world's largest trees, like General Sherman and General Grant, in structure wrap.

BRIGHAM: We had hand crews going in and doing this kind of raking and fuel removal around individual trees in groves. We did backfiring operations to change fire behavior.

ELAM (voice-over): But the loss of any sequoia, such rare and majestic beauties, is one too many to lose.

BRIGHAM: It is dead. That tree is dead. It is not coming back. This tree that is at a minimum 1,000 and has survived many, many, many previous fires and should have lived another 1,000 to 2,000 years, is dead, is gone.

ELAM (voice-over): Stephanie Elam, CNN, the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


BRUNHUBER: In India, commuters make their way amid heavy smog as anti- smog guns spray water to curb air pollution, air pollution that's so bad, officials are considering restricting the use of private vehicles on alternate days.

Schools in the Indian capital have been closed this week. Air quality regularly plummets to the severe category in the winter, in part because of the burning of crop waste in surrounding farm lands.

And this is a view from Lahore, Pakistan. No, that's not a foggy morning; it's smog-polluted air. Lahore just topped the list as the most polluted city in the world. As the thick, acrid air continues to take a toll on living conditions, the government is using a new measure to fight the problem.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Smog so dense you can only see a silhouette of this building that's just a few yards away. On the streets, people are waving through the thick smog. One resident says it's so bad people are covering their eyes and walking right into traffic.

This is Lahore, Pakistan, which regularly ranks among the most polluted cities in the world.

NORMAN SAHIR, LAHORE RESIDENT (through translator): Now this city, which we call the City of Flowers, the City of Gardens, is gripped by smog. It is engulfed in smog.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): On Saturday Lahore topped IQAir's daily ranking of the world's most polluted cities again, a rank often challenged by New Delhi. Residents cough; everything smells of smoke. According to a paramedic at a local hospital, patients are coming in with sore throats because of the smog, not COVID.

As the haze grips the city in a chokehold, residents are getting desperate.

TAHA KHALIK, LAHORE RESIDENT (through translator): When we leave the house in the morning, the pollution causes irritation to the eyes. It's hard to breathe. The government should find a solution to the smog.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): A local report says anti-smog squads have been deployed across Lahore. they are identifying and sealing factories that aren't meeting the city's standards.

In neighboring New Delhi, smog towers in some areas are sucking pollutants from the air. Residents are now asking the government to install more, as the smog continues to affect people's health and livelihoods, like this rickshaw driver's.

BHAJAN LAL, AUTO-RICKSHAW DRIVER (through translator): The whole day I drive around without any passengers. There are passengers; they prefer cabs. Ask them, "Where are you going?"

They say "No, there's too much pollution, we will take a cab."

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Despite some measures to fight smog, the increasing pollution makes the sight of a clear sky still a distant dream.


BRUNHUBER: NASA has been working on technology that could protect Earth from asteroid strikes. The first test mission is set to launch this week, so we'll explain what scientists hope the system will do after the break. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: NASA plans to launch a craft into space on Wednesday with an unusual goal: to crash it directly into a near Earth asteroid. It will be the first test for a system scientists hope will protect the planet from the kind of disaster that killed off the dinosaurs and is still the stuff of movie blockbusters. Our Michael Holmes that has that story.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a space story seen several times in the movies, like in the 1998 sci-fi film, "Armageddon."


HOLMES (voice-over): An asteroid threatens Earth; the military, astronauts, even oil rig drillers try to save mankind. Some cities don't make it but, in the end, the planet survives.

A Hollywood ending, which NASA is hoping to make a reality with its first planetary defense test mission. Scientists say they have identified the kilometer-wide asteroids, like those shown in the blockbusters, and there are no dangers of them hitting Earth in the coming centuries.

But NASA says it wants to study what could be done if an Earth- threatening asteroid is discovered.

On Wednesday, it will launch a mission called DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. It will send an unmanned spacecraft into space and, if successful, it won't return home. DART is set to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and will travel through space for the next nine months.


HOLMES (voice-over): Its destination, a near Earth asteroid named Didymus and its moonlet.

NANCY CHABOT, DART COORDINATION LEAD, APL: These asteroids are not a threat to the Earth. There are not a danger to the Earth, they are not on a path to hit the Earth in the foreseeable future. That makes them an appropriate target for a first test.

HOLMES (voice-over): Traveling at a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second, DART will then deliberately crash into the moonlet to try to jolt it from its regular orbit. Scientists back on Earth will monitor the collision using satellite imagery and ground-based telescopes, to see how much the moonlet changes the course.

ANDY CHENG, DART INVESTIGATION TEAM LEAD, APL: If one day an asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth, we have an idea of how big that asteroid is and how fast it's coming and when it will hit, that kind of information.

Then we will have an idea how much momentum we need to make that asteroid miss the Earth.

HOLMES (voice-over): The targeted moonlet is a little larger than one of the pyramids in Egypt. NASA says there are 10,000 known asteroids that are just as big or bigger that could, potentially, caused major regional damage if they ever hit the Earth although none of them are tracking this way.

DART's kamikaze mission could provide lifesaving data, if anything ever does get too close -- Michael Holmes, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRUNHUBER: I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back in a moment with more CNN NEWSROOM. Please do stay with us.